Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Section 4 disclosures of Chennai Corporation

I had filed an RTI application with the Chennai Corporation on 27th February 2008 asking whther they had done section 4 disclosures under RTI and when I did not get a satisfactory reply even after a first appeal I filed an appeal with the State Information Commision. The case came up for hearing on 17th Novermber (a delay of close to 8 months). At the hearing the commissioner (Mr.T.R.Ramasamy) asked me specifically which parts of section 4 were not yet fulfilled. I pointed out the sections and told them that the website should have details of expenses made like the MLA Local Area Development Scheme, or the Councillor's ward development scheme. In the hearing the Commissioner ordered the PIO present to take the issue up with the Corporation Commisioner and to comply with the requirements of section 4. The order also said that there will be a review in 6 weeks. The order reached me a couple of days back.

The order has started having its effect. Though no new information has been added so far, the re-design of the corporation webpage for RTI has begun. It can be seen here. They are trying to match the existing pages in the website to the requirements of the section. Compliance is still very far away, but the process has just begun. I hope the process is comprehensively taken through and not just for the sake of answering the commission. Especially I want reports of all the money spent, available on the website so that very few RTIs will be required to be filed. Let us see what happens. I will keep monitoring.

But there is one irony about the whole thing. The Commission which whose order is bringing about the change has itself not complied with section 4. In fact, when compared with the Information Commission website, the Chennai Corporation website is far better (though that doesnt say much) . The State Information Commission website doesnt have anything. After uploading decisions of 3 months (Apr-Jun), the website has gone back into hibernation :-)

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Govt's lie about DVAC and TSVC Exemption

Today morning I went to the P&AR department for section 4 inspection after sending them an intimation asking them to "keep ready for inspection all relevant facts which formed the basis in the formulating of the decision to exempt DVAC and TSVC from the Right to Information act, vide a Government Order (G.O. Ms. No 158, Dated: 26.8.2008)". I sought this exemption under section 4(c) of the Right to Information act which says "Every Public Authority shall, publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public;". When I went there today, I was told that the files have been sent to the Government Pleader at the High Court since the PIL against the exemption was listed for hearing today. This PIL was filed by one Mr.Sethu. I have not heard about him or met him. When I called him up to find out whether the case had really been listed for hearing, he did not know that it was listed for hearing. He then checked and confirmed that it was indeed listed, but said that the case might not be heard today since it was listed as one of the last cases for the day.

At the time of exempting DVAC and TSVC from the Right to Information act, the government in response to the criticism in the media about the exemption, sent out a press release saying that information regarding closed cases can still be obtained. The press release, which was in tamil, can be seen here. I was still doubtful since a press release does not have any legal sanction. So I filed an RTI application with the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption, asking for number of cases in which investigation was complete and the number of people convicted in these cases. The information I sought was clearly about cases where investigation was complete. But I received no reply for 30 days. I again filed a first appeal. Again there was no reply for about 15 days. So I called them up last week to know the status. They said that a reply will come and if not, I can come to thier office the following week. So I went to their office today. There I was not even allowed to meet the PIO or any officer. I explained the whole thing to the person at the gate, and gave him a copy of the press release which said that information regarding closed cases can be disclosed. He argued for some time, and then said that he will take this to the officer concerned. He asked me to sit at the gate itself. So I sat there. And after ten minutes he came back saying that the officer told that they received no orders for disclosing information and hence they cannot give information. When I asked him who it was who gave this reply, he told me that it was the admin inspector. When I asked for the name, he refused to give me the name and asked me to send a letter so that I can get a reply on the record. I reminded him that I had come there precisely because my two earlier letters were not replied to. He just was not reasonable and so I walked off. After getting back to office, I called up DVAC and found the admin inspector's name. He was one Mr.Sudhakar. The person at the gate also told me that the admin inspector asked me to go to court or to any other body if I wanted to question his

This only confirmed what I had doubted. They did not give any order saying that information for closed cases alone can be given (whose legality, I doubt anyway) but just gave a press release saying the information regarding closed cases will be made available. The claim, by the P&AR department in the press release, was simply a lie.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Response to MLA Constituency Development Funds Issue

Immediately after the MLA Constituency Development issue came out in the papers, there was a clarification from the Chennai Corporation which can be seen here. Here they have said that they have "updated" the report and that works have been fully recommended in the Chepauk constituency (the CM's constituency) and that many of these works are near completion. What is funny is that, why did they not give me the updated data before? But even apart from that, why did they give the updated report only for the CM's constituency. What about the rest of the MLAs. Makes us think if this was due to some pressure, or did they themselves feel, that the CM might not be happy if he sees that Chennai Corporation has given out the data. I dont know.

Another interesting response that came in today's Hindu is from the AIADMK MLA Ms.Badar Sayeed. She has said many of her recommendations are wantonly rejected because she is from the opposition. This article can be seen here.

Assets Disclosure by MLAs, MLCs and Government Servants

Since October, I have been trying to study the available provisions for transparency in Government and here is what I found. This is just a very basic research I did on how to track the assets of MLAs, Councillors and Government Servants, try to look at available options of improving the quality of people we have elected etc. Before you start reading this piece, I must admit that I did not have any idea on how to look at corruption in Government or Criminialisation of politics etc. I also knew nothing about the rules in place to curb these. This is a learning for me, and my intention in writing this is not only to blog my work but also that this could be a very rough guide to the status of the checks and balances available in the system. Of course, I cannot claim this to be exhaustive or in any way authoritative, but it can be a good starting point.


The first thing I tried to see was assets disclosure by all these people. Even before trying to find out about this, I knew that MLAs have to disclose their assets at the time of filing their nominations with the State Election Commission. These affidavits were available on the state election commission website. So I downloaded the affidavits of about 35 ministers that we have and went through them. One way to use these assets declaration data that I could think of right away was to compare it with previous elections' affidavits. That might give us an idea of the change in financial position if any, and whether the change is justifiable given the person's source of income. But when I tried to do that, I found that this was the only set available on the website. The rules that candidates have to file their assets returns and criminal backgrounds came into force only in 2003. So I have to wait till the next elections to know their assets details. But this led me to think whether there are any rules for MLAs to file their returns at any other place. Going through the Tamil Nadu Assembly website, I found that there indeed was such a rule. It can be seen at So I filed an RTI asking the status of compliance of MLAs with this rule. I asked details of just the present assembly (13th) and the previous assembly (12th). I thought an annual comparison of assets would be a good way to monitor the assets of MLAs because any sudden spike in assets could come under scrutiny. Of course, there is always the scope of their not declaring assets at all, handling which would be far more difficult. To my complete surprise I received a reply saying that not even a single MLA has complied with this requirement in this assembly and the previous one. But this letter stated the resolution to this effect was passed on 27th Aug 1969. The proceedings of that assembly session can be seen here. Page 12 of the pdf file shows that the then CM Mr.M.Karunanidhi (who is also the CM now) moved the motion for assets disclosure. This was passed with retrospective effect from the year 1966-1967. It has also been mentioned that some MLAs and ministers did indeed file their returns after this. But today the practice is probably long forgotten. So I filed an RTI to find out exactly when this procedure died out. I have asked for details of disclosure of all the 42 years starting from 1967 till this year. That should give us an idea of what happened. After this I am planning to try to push the MLAs to follow the procedure, by pressure through the media or by forcing them using the courts.

When looking at affidavits, I also saw that quite a few ministers had criminal cases against them. Considering that they are all ministers, no guesses needed on how the investigations would proceed. There are also corruption complaints against some ministers pending with the DVAC (Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption). With regard to investigations with Police Stations attempts to push can be made using Right to Information, but that will require a good understanding of the Police and Court procedures. I am trying to find a person who can help me with this. As for trying to find the progress of cases with the DVAC, RTI cannot help because DVAC has been recently exempted from the RTI act.

Then I looked at Assets disclosure of Corporation Councillors. According to the Madras City Municipal Corporation (Disclosure of Assets) Rules, 1973 Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) of the Chennai Corporation should disclose their assets details on March 31st of every year. Here again I have filed an RTI with the Chennai Corporation asking for compliance details. This was done on 23rd October 2008 and am awaiting a reply.

Government Servants
When trying to look at rules for Government Servants (THE TAMIL NADU GOVERNMENT SERVANTS' CONDUCT RULES, 1973), I saw that there were the seemingly strict rules for government servants where there have to get approval for any purchases made, and that they should not take gifts etc. Rules No. 7(3) clearly states that "Every Government servant shall submit a return of his assets and liabilities as on 31st December 1980 in Forms I to V in Schedule I appended to these rules on or before 31st March 1981 and thereafter at an interval of five years on or before the 31st day of March of the year immediately following the year to which the return relates". For this again, I filed an RTI application seeking the status and am awaiting a reply.

Friday, November 07, 2008

MLA Constituency Development Funds

The next time you see some civic problem in your area, ask your MLA to use his/her MLA Constituency Development Scheme (MLACDS) Funds for addressing the problem. Information received under Right to Information act from the Chennai Corporation, which is the implementation agency of the scheme for Chennai MLAs, revealed that about 43% of the funds allocated to 15 Chennai MLAs are lying unutilized. This information pertains to the last 2.5 years starting April 2006. This is the case when there is no end to the problems that the city is facing like bad roads, overflowing drainage and lack of waste management systems. In the last 2.5 years 45 crores have been allocated under this scheme to the 15 MLAs in Chennai. Out of this only about 26 crores have been utilized. The remaining 19 crores are unutilized. A party wise analysis reveals a different picture. Out of the 15 MLAs, 6 are from DMK and 7 are from AIADMK. DMK MLAs have utilized 75% of the funds, while the AIADMK MLAs have utilized only 36% of the funds allocated. The total unutilized funds lying in the account, accumulated since the inception of the scheme is 51 crores.

Individual utilization of MLAs varies from 13% to 100%. Mr.Arcot N.Veerasamy, MLA of Anna Nagar constituency and Mr.K.Anbazhagan, MLA of Harbour Constituency have utilized 100% of their funds, while the Chief Minister Mr.M.Karunanidhi representing Chepauk has utilized only 50% of the funds allocated so far. The complete table can be seen here.

Under this scheme every MLA is allocated a specific amount every year which could be used to implement works in the MLA’s constituency. This amount has been increasing regularly since the time of its inception. In 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 this amount was 1.2 crores per MLA. The amount has gone up to 1.5 crores this financial year. This is a convenient way for an MLA to get work done in his constituency since he only needs to recommend the work to the implementing agency and it gets done. But under utilization of this is a wonderful opportunity lost.

Informed citizenry leads to a better democracy and better functioning of the government. Every MLA needs to be questioned on his work done for his constituency. The utilization of these funds is one of the parameters based on which an MLA could possibly be evaluated. Hence such an exercise should be taken up by people in all over the state. Moreover, people need to find out not just how much of the funds were utilized, but also what works were implemented and how they were implemented, which is what I intend to do next.

This information in the Media.

CM fails to spend half of MLA's fund

"43 per cent of 15 MLAs' funds not used"

Unused Constituency Development Funds in Chennai (Tamil)